Big Bang and religion mixed in Cern debate

An image of data recorded at Cern during experiments is search of the Higgs boson (c) Cern The discovery of a "Higgs-like particle" preceded this religious and scientific meeting

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Some of Europe's most prominent scientists have opened a debate with philosophers and theologians over the origins of everything.

The event, in Geneva, Switzerland, is described as a search for "common ground" between religion and science over how the Universe began.

It will focus on the Big Bang theory.

The conference was called by Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in the wake of its Higgs boson discovery.

Cern is the home of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator, situated beneath the French-Swiss border region near Geneva.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili explains what the Higgs boson is and why its discovery is so important

The first speaker at the conference was Andrew Pinsent, research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University.

He said that science risked "trying to turn society into a machine" if it did not engage with religion and philosophy.

"Science in isolation is great for producing stuff, but not so good for producing ideas," he told the BBC.

"Einstein began by asking the kinds of questions that a child would ask, like what would it be like to ride on a beam of light."

That, Dr Pinsent said, was what science should return to.

Prof Rolf Heuer, director of Cern, explained that the Higgs results provided a "deeper insight and understanding of the moments after the Big Bang".

Start Quote

We might find new ways of talking to each other about the beginning of the world”

End Quote Canon Dr Gary Wilton Meeting organiser

He added that he hoped, by the end of the conference, that delegates from very different backgrounds would be able to "start to discuss the origin of our Universe".

Co-organiser Canon Dr Gary Wilton, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative in Brussels, said that the Higgs particle "raised lots of questions [about the origins of the Universe] that scientists alone can't answer".

"They need to explore them with theologians and philosophers," he added.

Heated debate

The organisers are expecting some disagreements during the three-day event.

For example, one of the speakers, Prof John Lennox from Oxford University, has been an outspoken critic of atheist scientists in the past.

Most recently, he took issue with Prof Stephen Hawking's assertion that God did not create the Universe.

In an article in the Daily Mail, he said that he was certain that Prof Hawking was wrong.

Prof Lennox wrote: "When Hawking argues, in support of his theory of spontaneous creation, that it was only necessary for 'the blue touch paper' to be lit to 'set the universe going', the question must be: where did this blue touch paper come from? And who lit it, if not God?"

Dr Wilton, though, said he was hopeful that "scientists, theologians and philosophers alike might gain fresh insights from each other's disciplines".

The Big Bang

"This is such an exciting conference," he told the BBC.

"It is the first time Cern has invited theologians and philosophers to debate with them.

"But by the end... we might find new ways of understanding our own positions.

"We might even find new ways of talking to each other about the beginning of the world."

The conference is being organised by Wilton Park, an agency of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    How can someone compare scientists with theologians? It is simply absurd to compare the brightest minds on the planet with retarded people from the dark ages! How to compare the racehorses that charge towards a brighter future with bloodsucking parasites that try to stop them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    #166 David Walker - I have found arguing with zealots of atheism similarly unproductive. Any discussion with people of closed mind is equally futile regardless of what its closed to.

    Preconceptions of the worth of someone else's standpoint on the basis of their beliefs can end discourse altogether. And that is often true from both sides of the fence,

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    The issues are not God or Big Bang.The essential issue is the human perception of the universe.We have this irrational faith that the brain can somehow work out everything that’s going on either God or Big Bang. Trying to work out the universe is like an ant playing chess with a supercomputer.The only way we could know the universe/God would be to be it, thats not going to happen now is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Between Bible-bangers and Manual-bangers, very little here said in the spirit of the article. Or of the conference.
    I agree scientists today are just too close-minded, even if the ultra-religious attacks on common sense have intensified in recent years, there is no reason to go all un-scientific on us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    The universe slows down and ceases to expand. The matter then collapses back to a common point until bang again. Its boom and bust ad infinitum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Such meetings or discussions will surely have few practical applications. In spite of this, the sheer fact that this is taking place is encouraging; the only way we can advance as a species is by being open minded.

    Undermining particular faiths by attacking them is a redundant activity; fundamentalism of any sort has no place in a progressive, intellectual society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    136. ShadowProclaimation - "we have the evidence - you just don't want to believe it!"

    Correction - YOU don't want to believe the evidence.

    135 octopusmagnificens - "Adults should not have imaginary friends."

    Assuming you are calling God "imaginery", I suppose you have evidence to back up this assertion? I would be most interested to see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    The origin of the Big Bang is fundamentally a non-scientific question. Scientific research deals with events that can be observed and experiments that are repeatable. The Big Bang can neither be observed nor repeated. Besides, the idea that nothing nowhere never exploded with no cause and thus created the Universe, runs contrary to all other scientific theories to date. This debate makes sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Science and religion have nothing in common, scientists will never prove or disprove the existence of God

    Science doesn't even know ghosts exist

    Freak waves didn't exist either, until 1995, although every peanut head who spent a few years at sea knew they existed
    (That wiki has been massively edited since it first went up, it used to be pretty huge)

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    @113 "To even think that a human being is something created by chance (which is what current scientific thinking believes) for me is simply mind blowing."
    There is no improbability in our existence! We have to exist because within infinity everything happens. The only reason you think it mind blowing is that you can't see that this is just 1 manifestation of reality and this is the one you are in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    1. There's far more subjectivity in science than many would like to admit - yet essential in understanding quantum physics. 2. I wonder if this debate considers the cutting edge cosmologies (such as colliding branes) which deny the idea of a beginning. 3. Buddha insisted on testing for oneself, not just believing.- a very scientific attitude. 4. I recommend Adam Frank's book "About Time"

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    148. David - "The science increasingly indicates that our Universe was randomly generated, rather than specially created."

    If you looked at the evidence with an open mind, you could only accept special creation.

    "But if it were created by a god, we would then need to ask what created the god."

    A futile question. God is eternal, therefore had no "beginning" and therefore no creator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Anybody else heard the phrase about debating religion with zealots, being similar to playing chess with a pidgeon? You 'check' and the pidgeon responds by knocking the pieces over, defecating on the board and claiming victory... there is no debate.

    Scietific theory vs faith = a long pointless discussion with no productive outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    As always, if the existence of a particular matter or event cannot be fully explained, then it would be attributed to God. But if it can be evidentially explained, then it would be attributed to Science. The Truth is, we will never really fully know how this world was created. Better we just simply focus on improving the lives of our fellowmen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    #159 whatisgoing - Historical precedent tells me religion tends to use new knowledge to reshape the religious paradigm. It has always been thus.

    Religion is a spiritual perspective, its physical boundaries determined by our physical knowledge. Its relevance has and will always be a spiritual one that relates to the meaning of our existence rather than its physical nature alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I'm an atheist, have been for a long time, my parents though are Christians (dad a retired C of E priest), two very intelligent, rational, liberal minded people who don't take the bible literally, accept science as fact (when the scientists do likewise) and who regard fundamentalists of all religions as the fools that they are. Please don't tar all those that have faith with the same brush.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Futile. Utterly futile.

    You may as well put Scientists one side of the street, Theologians on the other and get them to throw Tomatoes at each other.

    It would be funnier and more productive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Still strikes me as incredible that people can believe that something came out of nothing then randomly became this incredible universe we live in, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. Science and religion hand-in-hand, no problem, and no confusion for me as a Muslim. This is a Euro-Christian debate. The answer lies elsewhere.
    By the way, what is the soul anyway? The brain is a piece of meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    The Big Bang was caused by someone in the previous universe operating a Large Hadron Collider at full power, which ripped a hole in space-time, sucked all the matter into the hole in zero time and then exploded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    at the moment HB is still theoretical,it is only a matter of time before it is proven,our understanding of life,science,evolution etc will take a whole new turn,our religious friends will seek to disprove this at any cost i fear,give me science over religion any time.being born into christian faith i believed until i was old enough to question,now i u'stand its just a story. science 1,religion 0


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